FLIGHT, the new movie from Robert Zemeckis and starring Denzel Washington, is a good movie that could have been a great one.
Within the first fifteen minutes comes the most terrifying plane crash I've ever seen on film. The pilot, "Whip" Whitaker (Washington), lands the plane, barely, through a combination of bravura flying and nerves of titanium. Of the 102 passengers aboard, only six die, and the general consensus is that no one else could have brought the plane, crippled by a malfunction in the tail, down at all without a fireball.
The titanium nerves are especially notable because Whitaker is flying after consuming both vodka and cocaine. This fact comes out in toxicology reports, and worshipful accolades turn into criminal charges. From this point on, the film is not really a movie about airplanes, it's a movie about alcoholism. As such, it covers the usual ground of denial, good resolutions, bad slips, and exasperated attempts by others to help a man who doesn't really want help, or anything else except the next drink. All this is familiar, but Zemeckis gives it to mostly seen from the outside, through the eyes of all the other characters, than from Whitaker's point of view. As such, his "flight" from the reality that everyone else recognizes has a stronger context than in other "alcoholic" movies like Jeff Bridges's "Crazy Heart." Whitaker, as an airline pilot, is not just destroying his own life: he is entrusted with the lives of hundreds of others and the fate of an airline.
All this really interested me. Where, in my opinion, the movie failed is the last one-tenth. Instead of the unflinching ending that such a movie demands, we get a sentimental change of heart, a too-quick redemption, and reconciliations with estranged girlfriend and estranged son that apparently heal all scars. I just didn't believe it. I wish that Zemeckis had let Whitaker crash and burn, or at least end up having a harder time crawling out of the wreckage. Instead, the film takes a "flight" from its first 9/10, and all the clouds at the end are rosy pink.